Barabbas | 1961
In Dino de Laurentiis’ huge US/Italian co-production, Anthony Quinn is Barabbas, the thief pardoned in place of JC and sentenced to work in the silver mines, who converts to Christianity and winds up as a gladiator. The venture is given a bit of class with a screenplay by playwright Christopher Fry.
It was filmed in Italy. The mines in which Barabbas sweats are genuine sulphur mines on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, on the east coast of Sicily. The tallest active volcano in Europe, Etna towers over Catania, the second-largest city in Sicily. To visit and experience spectacular views, you can take the Circumetnea Railway from the Borgo metro station, and regular shuttles run from the city to the Rifugio Sapienza, the hotel and restaurant on the volcano’s slopes.
The vast, gladiatorial amphitheatre, where 300 combatants slog it out in true epic style, is the Arena di Verona, on Piazza Bra in the centre of Verona. One of the largest and best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world, it dates from the first century AD, and is now used to stage music events. You can glimpse its exterior in Letters To Juliet.
The first scene, of the crucifixion, famously incorporates a genuine total eclipse of the sun for the moment of Christ’s death. It was filmed on 15 February 1961 at Roccastrado, 120 miles north of Rome.